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Ravens Five Things

Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 19-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals

With 1:58 on the clock, the Ravens faced the demoralizing possibility of another home defeat, this time against their AFC North nemesis, the Cincinnati Bengals. Instead, they righted their ship with a clutch drive, relying on their bedrock elements: Lamar Jackson’s feet and Justin Tucker’s leg.

Here are five things we learned from their 19-17 victory on “Sunday Night Football.”

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Faced with another desperate fourth quarter, the Ravens fell back on their most trusted components.

Sweet relief.

What else can we say after the Ravens stood 118 seconds away from another collapse on their home field, only to ward it off with a quartet of tough dashes from quarterback Lamar Jackson and another deadeye field goal from Justin Tucker?

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Jackson felt it in the moments after the Ravens put their season back on track against the Bengals, an opponent that spanked them worse than any other in 2021. For the third time in three home games, they clung to a lead deep in the second half, only to lose it when their defense could not hold on a crucial drive. On this occasion, however, they had enough precious seconds to retaliate. To pull it off, they turned to the elements that have rarely let them down — Jackson’s whirring feet and Tucker’s metronomic right leg.

“If we make it to the playoffs, these are the type of games we’re going to be in,” Jackson said, steering the story back to the broader mission, which became a little easier with this not-at-all-easy divisional win.

There were many heroes on this night, when plenty of fans at M&T Bank Stadium probably expected the worst after watching the Ravens blow leads against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2 and the Buffalo Bills in Week 4. The defense corralled the Bengals for much of the evening, with a fierce opening, a timely interception from oft-maligned linebacker Patrick Queen and a goal-line stand punctuated by defensive tackle Calais Campbell blowing up a Joe Burrow shovel pass. Devin Duvernay again played Swiss Army knife for the offense.

But the Ravens went back to their bedrock when circumstances turned dire: Jackson, the player who defines them, and Tucker, the guy who does his job better than anyone in the long history of football. They embraced as Tucker ceded the postgame interview podium, the mutual appreciation between kicker and quarterback apparent for all to see.

The Ravens righted their ship with a clutch drive Sunday night against the Bengals, relying on their bedrock elements: the feet of Lamar Jackson, right, and the leg of Justin Tucker, left.

This evening could have followed the same doomed script as the last two Ravens home losses.

They were driving in Cincinnati territory with a chance to build on a 10-0 lead in the second quarter when Jackson overthrew an open Demarcus Robinson, dumping the ball into the waiting arms of Bengals safety Vonn Bell. Burrow, the Ravens’ greatest nemesis from 2021, led an 83-yard touchdown drive the other way, cracking the Baltimore defense for the first time all night. Just like that, the ruling narrative of the Ravens’ season — a gangbusters start undermined by blown opportunities — was back on the table. By halftime, another double-digit lead was gone.

For the first time all season, it was Jackson who nearly let the Ravens down. In addition to the interception in the first half, he had two chances to connect for a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half and overthrew his target in each case. With No. 1 wide receiver Rashod Bateman sidelined by a foot injury, the Ravens could not afford to miss on these scarce home-run shots, but their franchise quarterback simply was not sharp.

The throws he missed loomed large when Burrow and running back Joe Mixon nicked and bruised the Ravens’ defense on a 13-play scoring drive in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. The Ravens trailed for the first time all night, and it was Jackson’s job to move them far enough so Tucker could take the stage.

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As coach John Harbaugh noted, Jackson finds paths to victory that few other quarterbacks could imagine. “There’s nobody like Lamar,” he said. On a night when his aim was off, Jackson moved the Ravens within Tucker’s striking range by carving 19 yards through the heart of the Cincinnati defense. This time, it was enough.

Teammates know they should not take Justin Tucker for granted, but how can they help it?

After 15 years in the NFL, Campbell knows that even the greatest players falter on occasion. As mythic as they appear on their best days, they’re all too human on their worst. Which was what he tried to remind himself as he prayed for Tucker to make the 43-yard field goal that would send the Ravens home happy. “I try not to take it for granted,” the proud giant said.

Except that Tucker has taught teammates he might be the one infallible element in a game of disruption, chaos and violence.

“You don’t got to think,” Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins said. “You know it’s going in.”

After 61 straight made field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime, there’s really no other way to put it when it comes to Tucker. Did anyone in the stadium, including the most optimistic Bengal, think his final kick would do anything but split the uprights?

Ravens fans don’t have to be told to appreciate this consummate craftsman. He’s probably the second most popular player on the team behind Jackson. But at least once or twice a year, Tucker steps beyond routine brilliance and forces us to reckon with his absurd consistency in moments that shred the nerves of his peers.

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The Ravens' Justin Tucker, right, celebrates after kicking a 25-yard field goal, one of four he made Sunday night, in the fourth quarter against the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.

Yes, the game-winner was a certainty, but what about his 58-yard make early in the third quarter? As Harbaugh said, a Tucker miss in that situation would have left the Bengals within easy striking distance for a go-ahead score. “That was not an easy choice,” Harbaugh acknowledged. Tucker made it look easy by drilling the kick dead center with room to spare. That’s what he does.

If anything, he might be getting better at age 32. Recall that in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, he made just eight of 19 attempts from 50 yards or longer. He’s 10 for 10 from that distance over the last two seasons.

Despite Cincinnati’s last drive, this was also a win for the Ravens’ defense.

The Bengals started out with quick throws, trying to minimize the Ravens’ chances of exploiting their threadbare offensive line. But as soon as they faced a third down, Campbell stormed up the middle to hit Burrow and force an incompletion.

Cincinnati faced third-and-12 on its next possession, and this time, Jason Pierre-Paul beat his blocker one-on-one for his first sack as a Raven. A blitzing Josh Bynes leveled Burrow to set up another three-and-out the fourth time the Bengals had the ball.

Ravens defensive lineman Calais Campbell, left, breaks up a pass intended for Bengals wide receiver Stanley Morgan on a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter Sunday.

Though Burrow found his rhythm in the second quarter, aided by several missed tackles in the Ravens’ secondary, the defense played well enough to win in the first half, holding the Bengals to one of six conversions on third down and forcing them to punt on their first four possessions. The wide receiver trio of Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd, which Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey called “obviously” the best in the league, produced just 29 yards before halftime.

Remember, Burrow threw for 941 yards combined as he hung 41 points on the Ravens twice last season. He threw for 217 and produced a mere 17 points this time around.

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Humphrey stood tall in coverage. His partner in crime, Marcus Peters, destroyed a double handoff for a 12-yard loss on that essential stand in the third quarter. Pierre-Paul batted away two passes on top of his sack. Queen had dropped interceptions in each of the two previous games, so he spent his week catching tennis balls to hone his hand-eye coordination. This time, he held on, and his turnover set up Tucker’s 58-yard field goal.

The Ravens won’t be happy that Mixon gashed their front on Cincinnati’s go-ahead drive. They absorbed another brutal injury hit when safety Marcus Williams dislocated his wrist in the second quarter and will be out indefinitely. But they picked up the offense’s slack as much as Jackson and Tucker had their backs at the end.

“They’ve been getting a lot of noise about how they’ve been playing,” Jackson said. “In our eyes, they played lights out.”

Whatever the Ravens need on offense, Devin Duvernay provides.

With no Justice Hill (hamstring) as a complementary option to Dobbins, the Ravens turned to Duvernay to give their ground attack an early kick. He made a terrific play on their first drive when he scooped up an errant snap by Tyler Linderbaum and carried it 17 yards along the sideline. He added a 12-yard gain off a sweep to set up Tucker’s first field goal of the night.

The Ravens were also without their No. 1 wide receiver in Bateman, so Duvernay did that job as well, snaring five passes on seven targets on a night when no one else in his position group caught more than one ball. His line would have been gaudier if Jackson had not sailed that potential touchdown pass beyond his grasp in the third quarter. Duvernay easily beat the coverage with his vertical route.

He was actually less productive than usual as a returner, but who could blame him when he was doing so much to hold the offense together? We have said it time and again through the first five weeks, but Duvernay is the most pleasant surprise on the team.

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Ronnie Stanley’s return answered a few questions but left us wondering when he’ll play every snap.

The Ravens took a conservative approach with the 2019 All-Pro, removing him for significant stretches of his first game since the 2021 opener. Stanley certainly played better than he did in that aborted comeback, losing none of his 13 pass-blocking steps against the Bengals, according to Pro Football Focus.

Matched against a high-end edge rusher in Trey Hendrickson, he move smoothly and held his ground.

He was satisfied with how the evening went, even if he was frustrated to watch the deciding drive from the sideline as Patrick Mekari stepped in at left tackle.

“I thought I played pretty good for the snaps that I had,” he said. “I just went in with zero doubts about my ability, and I think that was a big difference from last year — to be going in fully confident.”

For weeks, we had waited for Stanley, who looked fit in practice, to decide his ankle was sound enough for game action. The home fans greeted him with a roar during pregame introductions, and the Ravens scored on the first two series he played. But his stop-and-start usage pattern raised new questions about when he will return to being the blindside anchor he was in 2019.

Stanley does not seem to doubt he will get there. He said he’s confident this gradual reintroduction is prudent after he came out of Sunday’s game with only minor soreness.

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“Coming back, and this being my first game in two years, you want to make sure that I’m easing back into the reps and not just taking every single rep in the first game back,” he said. “It’s tough as a competitor, and oftentimes, you get cold, you get stiff [and] you just want to keep playing, but I definitely understand it. I think it’s a good plan.”

Week 6

RAVENS@GIANTS

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

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Line: Ravens by 5 1/2


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